So far the Farmers Almanac has been pretty accurate for our area. Not much snow, plenty of ice, and much colder than usual. Here you can see the chickens don't seem to mind the completely iced over ground. We initially had some fears about the survivability of our chickens this winter. We had paid much more attention to the egg laying abilities and unique features of each breed more than their cold hardiness. With the very large, open style coop that our girls enjoy, drafts are aplenty. Now that temperatures have stayed in the 20's with lows in the single digits, I feel we can now rest easy, knowing that our chickens (and ducks) are quite resilient in some of the coldest weather in recent years. The breeds that seem to be doing the best are:
Ducks: All of them (Blue Runner, Mallards, and Khaki Campbells). We have 5 ducks, and continue to collect 3 duck eggs each day, even now that we have only 9 hours of daylight. They are by far the most reliable.
Chickens: Dark Cornish, Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington, Silver Laced Wyandottes, and Barred Rock. Their egg laying abilities seem to fluctuate mostly with the temperature and cloudiness. We have roughly 30 chickens, and on warmer, sunnier days, they will provide up to a dozen eggs each day. On cold or very cloudy days they will provide as few as 3 eggs. We do have one injury to report though, the frostbite of our roosters comb. None of the hens (who have much shorter combs) have any injuries, leading me to think we need a breed with rose, pea, or cushion comb. Obvious choices would be the Dark Cornish (pea), or the silver laced wyandottes (rose).
Now onto my favorite part of this post, the garden.This winter I decided to leave all of the fall vegetables uncovered and (some) unharvested to test their ability to store in the ground. The ground has warmed significantly this weekend, and made for easy harvesting of a few samples to taste.
The carrots didn't look too happy upon first glance. After I pulled back the dead leaves, there were several young, healthy leaves poking out from the center of each carrot. This was surprising considering the ice was frozen 1/8" thick on these plants less than a week ago.
I loosened the earth from around a carrot and gently pulled it free from its muddy home. It appeared to be in good shape. After washing and tasting a few things became more apparent to me. First, it was a much brighter orange than usual. Secondly, it was much crunchier than any carrot I have eaten. Third, it was by far the sweetest, most delicious carrot that we have ever grown. The variety is St. Valery, and it surpasses all other carrots with ease. Very winter Hardy.
After reading in a few different books that blue kales tend to be more sensitive to frosts and freezes, we decided to go with a purple colored variety called "Ragged Jack" or also known as "Russian Red". Older, exterior leaves showed some damage, but could still be picked and utilized in soups. They were just as tasty as the young interior leaves (which showed no damage) which were nutty, had no bitterness, and were very tender. Note the older damaged leaves at the top of this photo, and the younger, healthy leaves in the bottom center.
The collard greens were the best I have ever tasted in my life; I ate handfuls of them straight from the garden. While they suffered mild frostbite, it was not enough to destroy the plant, or make them any less edible.
The cabbages also did quite well, as did the Brussels Sprouts. The Rutabagas, Swiss Chard, Beets, Turnips, Broccoli, and Cauliflowers have all been completely destroyed. However, I have left the rutabagas in the ground to test their ability to store even after the tops have withered away.
The fall planted garlic is doing quite well. The tender green shoots didn't even succomb to the ice and snow storms and are still looking quite green and healthy. For those who haven't planted garlic before, it is normally planted in the fall, where it grows roots and eventually a little green shoot. The shoot is normally nipped back in the cold days of winter, and re-emerges in spring where it will have a huge head start on finishing its growth cycle. The fall planted bulbs always outproduce spring planted bulbs and also have much better taste. The photo below shows how much growth a garlic clove undergoes in one month. It was planted the first week of Nov in Zone 6b, and shows why it is superior to spring planting. The variety is Music, and it is a porcelain hardneck type.
Stay tuned for more updates as the winter gets even colder and darker!